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“A Journey to Virginia in December, 1859”

The legendary John Brown figured in Oberlin’s anti-slavery history as well. His Harpers Ferry exploits, with John Copeland, and Lewis Sheridan Leary, are recounted in a “Thursday Lecture” given by James Monroe. Oberlin’s James Monroe (1821-1898) was one of the town’s leading citizens and one of its most dedicated abolitionists.

“A Journey to Virginia in December, 1859,” Oberlin Thursday Lectures, Addresses, and Lectures (1898), p. 158-59.

A Journey to Virginia in December, 1859.

A Thursday Lecture.

It must have been on, or very near. Saturday morning, December 17, 1859—indeed I think it was that very morning—that an incident occurred in the parlor of my house, then on South Professor Street, which was taken its place in memory as one of the most pathetic experiences of my life. A father and mother, neighbors whom I knew, came to my door and asked for an interview. They were Mr. and Mrs. John Copeland—people in part, of African blood, of respectable standing in the community, and of amiable and Christian deportment. A son of these parents is still favorably known among us as a business partner of Mrs. Charles Glen, the builder. As I received them, I saw that they were in deep distress. The mother especially, exhibited such intense suffering—suffering so affecting both body and mind—that it was a question whether she would not sink to the floor, in utter exhaustion, before the conference could be completed. Their story is soon told. A son of the family John A. Copeland, a young man about twenty-six year of age, had gone, some months before, to Chatham, in Canada, to visit a married sister. While there he had met an agent of John Brown, who invited him to join in the Virginia raid. Enthusiastic for the deliverance of both the races with which he was identified from the curse of slavery, and an ardent admirer of Brown, he accepted the invitation. With the result of the raid we are all acquainted. Brown was executed December 2, 1859, at Charlestown, Virginia. On the sixteenth day of December, came the execution of Copeland, at the same place. I have in my possession a letter, written by him on that day to his parents, brothers, and sisters in Oberlin, within two hours probably of the time of his ascending the scaffold, which, in its exhibition of Christian peace, of a spirit of forgiveness, of domestic affection, and of profound calm, will not compare unfavorably with any of the last utterances of apostles and martyrs. You will see that the day of his execution was the one immediately preceding that of the visit of his parents to me.…

Contents

Bust of John Brown (1870)

Daguerreotype of Samuel Burdette, G.C. Towbridge, and Henry Kinney, who were involved in Bleeding Kansas (1856)

Letter home by John A. Copeland (1859)

Photograph of Lewis S. Leary, Harpers Ferry participant (c.1850s)

“A Journey to Virginia in December, 1859,” A Thursday Lecture by James Monroe (1898), p. 158-59.

 
 
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